And so to Munich for the fifth Telco Cloud Forum, in a city better noted for its Oktoberfest.
Munich is also noted for a particular art venture, the Kunstverein München and I enjoyed a drink with its Director, Bart van de Heide. A Dutchman, van de Heide has a well thought-through focus on clear but deliverable objectives, making the Kunstverein the lead, but not the controlling centre of an ecosystem – in this case of interacting arts-related initiatives and ventures that enrich the cultural life of Munich and increasingly more widely across Germany. Each initiative is well focused, well rooted in its particular niche – and the Kunstverein, through collaborations, networking, partnerships helps knit the whole together.
I know Bart because he cut his teeth as a visual arts curator in London at Cubitt Artists – and I have the privilege to chair the Trustees of Cubitt Artists. Our small gallery has proved, over the last decade, to be the successful training ground for a whole generation of effective and innovative arts curators.
Why do I mention Bart? Because I thought of his 'well thought-through focus on clear but deliverable objectives' frequently when I listened to the series of grandiose presentations that opened the Telco Cloud Forum the next morning.
The thesis expounded was that, because telcos sell telco services to the end consumer they will come to dominate the cloud and the whole value chain. They articulated a world in which telcos had to 'climb the verticals' if they were to grow their turnover, margins and profits.
Luckily the fast developing intermediaries (Cloud Service Brokers and their ilk) set about emphasising this lack of strategic thinking by the telcos by explaining that selling simple telecom services to the end consumer is one thing, selling increasingly specialised cloud services into the flourishing medium sized sector is a very different challenge. AppDirect and BCSG were leaders in the attack, stating that the reality is a fast growing diversity of vertical markets with a myriad of requirements. There is no way that the large telcos can develop that deep end market intimacy in such a complexity of verticals.
My top prize would go to Laurent Lachal of Ovum who presented a well researched and articulated analysis of the fast developing cloud market place in platforms. Three years I forecast that the future commerce of the cloud would be shaped around platforms, because 'the enterprise would find it more comfortable to stand on a platform than to stand on a cloud' – and so it is proving to be.
As Chair of the UK's Cloud Industry Forum (CIF) I had been invited to make a presentation to the Telco Cloud Forum. I used the opportunity to share thinking around the real future for the telcos in the era of the cloud.
Software-based network technology is opening the door to the full virtualisation and integration of data storage, data processing and data networking. And this is surely where the future of the telcos lies – as investors in, and the management of, these highly integrated manufacturing operations with the deep professional expertise in creating and exploiting these major assets (from massive server farms to global-encompassing spider webs of optical cables, satelite networks) that underwrite the diversity of platforms on which the complexity of end-market-close cloud service providers can then flourish. The platform defines the boundaries of the telcos' business models.
The telcos wrongly write off such manufacturing operations as unprofitable commodities. The joker in the pack on first day of the Telco Cloud Forum was, of course, Amazon - whose manufacturing skills are such that it is beating the old guard hands down in commodity compute services, which at its core must be very profitable – otherwise why the massive ongoing investment and endless big strategic price cuts?
The services value chain is not a vertical but a horizontal – and each point along the chain can be as profitable as its neighbour – the price is focus, focus and more focus yet. If I learnt nothing else in my 27 years in the chemical industry this was it.
Franz Seiser, VP Core Networks & Services at Deutsche Telekom (DT) elaborated on the shift in human skills that DT's new service production environments are requiring. Go learn from Germany's major large volume chemical manufacturer BASF at Ludwigshafen I advised him – they have the manufacturing skills that Deutsche Telekom now needs. Contemporary petrochemical plants represent major investments in hardware designed to be operated at very high asset efficiencies but also very flexibly. They present the nearest parallels I know to what the new telcos need to face up to. Key to success? Ever accumulating experiential depth in manufacturing operational excellence – the Amazon secret.
And so it could be for the telcos if they could but focus – profitable commodity operations on the grand scale!